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No Reward in Guatemala Case for ‘Gamesmanship’

(CN) - U.S. courts will not hear claims from Guatemalans allegedly kidnapped and tortured as union leaders in a labor dispute on a Del Monte banana plantation, the 11th Circuit ruled.

Led by Angel Enrique Villeda Aldana, the plaintiffs in this action are former officers of a labor union representing banana workers at the Zaculeu Lanquin Arapahoe Plantation in Guatemala.

In a 1999 labor dispute, the laborers claimed that armed security forces kidnapped them, repeatedly threatened them with death, and forced them at gunpoint to sign resignation letters and announce the union's defeat over the radio.

They filed their 2001 complaint in the Southern District of Florida after winning U.S. political asylum.

A federal judge dismissed that action in 2007, however, and the Atlanta-based federal appeals court affirmed, finding Guatemalan courts "adequate" to hear the matter.

Though the plaintiffs then filed suit in Guatemala, a court there refused to hear the case "because of that country's forum non conveniens blocking statute," the 11th Circuit noted Thursday.

Rather than appeal the Guatemalan court's ruling, the plaintiffs sought to reinstate the case in U.S. courts, arguing for the first time that a foreign forum was unavailable.

Again, the court in Florida dismissed the matter, and a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit affirmed.

The silence of the plaintiffs on this matter was not a mistake, but a strategic decision because, if the U.S. judge had been informed of Guatemala's blocking law and still declined to hear the case, Guatemala's forum non conveniens law would allow the foreign court to reassume jurisdiction, according to the ruling.

"Plaintiffs chose to remain silent," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the panel. "This type of gamesmanship is just the behavior we refused to reward in Galbert [v. W. Caribbean Airways], when the plaintiffs 'could have raised the same argument initially in their opposition to forum non conveniens dismissal in the Southern District of Florida. Because they failed to do so, possibly for strategy reasons, we conclude that their attempt to raise the argument anew in their motion to vacate must also fail.'"

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